HL Deb 17 July 1979 vol 401 cc1306-68

4.21 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, it is 14 years since Circular 10/65 signalled a countrywide change from the selective to the comprehensive principle in education. I had not expected to have to fight this old battle again. We are leaping into the past. The present Bill has been called in another place, nasty, brutish, short and a number of other Hobbesian names. I shall not use any such epithets. They are not my style, passionately as I feel on this subject, and they are not perhaps suitable for your Lordships' House.

I merely say that this Bill is unnecessary, irrelevant and totally inappropriate to the needs of education and of the country in the 1980s. To bring such a Bill forward, taking up the time of Members, Officers of both Houses, officials in the DES, LEAs and members of LEAs seems to me to show a great lack of proportion when economy, we are told, is the order of the day and when educational authorities up and down the country are grappling with such really pressing problems as the education and training of our 16 to 19-year-olds, an age group where there is much alarming and horrifying unemployment, and the crisis of falling rolls.

The Bill that was brought forward by the last Government and which fell at the Dissolution was attempting to deal with just those matters, and a certain amount of agreement was being reached by all parties. That Bill also dealt with the constitution of governing bodies and the representation of parents and teachers, giving effect to some of the recommendations of the Taylor Report. It is odd that in the debates in both Houses on the 1976 Act, there were constant references by the Conservatives to the lack of mention of parents in the Bill—see Dr. Rhodes Boyson, col. 1313, 4th February 1976. We can now see the hypocrisy of those references, for there is no mention of parents in this Bill, despite what appeared in the Tory Manifesto.

The abolition in Clause 1 of the present Bill of the duty to give effect to the comprehensive principle seems ridiculous when every authority in the country, bar Kingston, has comprehensive schools, and most authorities a very high proportion of them. With 85 per cent. of the children in the country in comprehensive schools, there can be no turning back of the tide. Mr. Carlisle's school does not seem to have taught him about King Canute. I thought that the Secretary of State's speech at Second Reading was very inadequate. He said what he was repealing but he gave no guidance about what his beliefs were and what his policy was to be. There were a few mutterings over parental choice, but we all know what that means in the selective system—choice for a very few. Guidance and policy is what one expects from the national head of state education.

There should indeed be a delicate balance between central and local government and it is valuable to keep that balance, but we need a framework of national policy within which to work. This does not mean uniformity. One only has to go into any two comprehensive schools in the same town to find that out. What we now have is a vacuum, with no leadership from the Secretary of State. We are back to where the present Prime Minister brought us with the publication of Circular 10/70, after she discovered that she could not just cancel Circular 10/65 by ex cathedra statements to the Press. She had announced that grammar schools were a good thing, but her party's Manifesto promised—I quote, and noble Lords should listen to this: … to take into account the general acceptance that 11 is too early to make a final decision which might affect a child's whole future". That ruled out any dictatorial solution. Therefore the point which she selected to stress was that LEAs could go their own way. Indeed, they were invited to relinquish plans for comprehensive reorganisation. Do noble Lords see any resemblance to what is happening now?

The Times Educational Supplement of 3rd July 1970 noted … a sharp break in the continuity of educational policy and the negative nature of the operation". The TES went on: What she"— Mrs. Thatcher— advances is not a policy, and, as a substitute for a positive line, the slogan leave the decision to the LEAs' can only be described as dishonest". The TES remembered Boyle with regret, as also I quote: … those embarrassing scenes each year at the Tory conference when there was a baying for his blood. Boyle baiting replaced the ritual debates on hanging and beating as the occasion for backwoodsmen to let off steam". Well! Evidently, said the TES, Mrs. Thatcher is unlikely to care much for the balance of educational opinion which has been steadily moving towards agreement on comprehensive education". But the consensus is not dependent on the incumbent of Curzon Street. If it is soundly based, the view that secondary education must be unified will prevail, and Mrs. Thatcher will find herself isolated. The article ends by saying that, What is needed is a policy for secondary education which can be explained and defended, something more substantial than muddled thoughts on co-existence and parental choice … which means recognising that continuity is a necessary virtue in educational policy making". But now Tory history repeats itself. The Secretary of State was positively evasive when he was asked by Mr. Christopher Price in the Second Reading debate whether he would use his powers under Section 13, as the present Prime Minister did when she was Secretary of State. She managed to incense a number of Conservative controlled authorities by turning down plans which had been carefully prepared after much consultation with the DES as well as with local people. For example, Barnet submitted a scheme—its third effort—in 1970, and after long delays—delays were a means to frustrate LEAs' supposed freedom—had it turned down in July 1971.

Three annual conferences of the AEC, in 1971, 1972 and 1973, passed resolutions protesting against the Secretary of State's high-handed actions. I quote that of 1972: While recognising that the Secretary of State must have regard to educational considerations in general, local needs and wishes in particular and the wise use of resources when considering schemes for the reorganisation of secondary education, this Association believes that each LEA has the right to organise secondary education in its area on comprehensive lines and that any such scheme proposed by an LEA should not be modified by the Secretary of State so as to interfere with this concept". The other resolution of 1973 said that: This association strongly supports the principle of comprehensive education and is concerned that the continuance of selective systems in many areas of the country is resulting in inequality of opportunity, social divisiveness, inadequate facilities for ROSLA and wastage of resources". I ask the Minister whether she and the Secretary of State are going to use those same high-handed methods. After all that happened in those four years, 1970 to 1974, is it surprising that the incoming Labour Government felt that an Act had to be passed to make clear what the overall policy was? In defence of those operating the 1976 Act, I must say that where authorities were facing genuine difficulties over numbers, population change, buildings, et cetera, the Department did not hurry to enforce compliance.

With the increasing mobility of people in this country it is even more essential than it was to have a national education policy and that is what Section 1 of the 1976 Act provided. People are changing jobs much more and moving from county to county; it would be quite intolerable for a boy or a girl who had been to a good comprehensive school to move to an area where grammar and secondary modern schools existed side by side and to be placed in a secondary modern school where opportunities must inevitably be much fewer, as would be likely if the grammar school was full. When the Minister replies to the debate, can she make clear what guidance will be given to LEAs about such a situation and what is the Government's policy of transfer at 12 or 13 if that imperfect predictor, the 11-plus, has made mistakes, as inevitably it will? Can we hear something on that?

The question of the curriculum was raised several times during the Committee Stage in another place and it is appropriate to mention it here when speaking of transfers. It is important that there should be consultation between neighbouring schools about the syllabus if there is a likelihood of children transferring, but I was a little apprehensive when Dr. Rhodes Boyson talked about core curriculum in Committee. From the way he spoke, I had a suspicion that there would be some rigid instructions issued from the centre. We do not want to move to the Continental system, as in Germany or France, where the Minister is alleged to be able to look at his watch at a given hour and to say " Now all over the country they are studying such and such a book ". I hope we shall also hear the Minister's views on this aspect of the curriculum.

I should now like to return to the question of falling rolls, which I mentioned earlier. This creates a major problem for every authority in the country because even if—rarely—the population is rising in some parts of the area, in others the reverse is happening. If there are to he grammar schools retained and grammar schools are to be filled up, as one expects they will be, the numbers in the secondary modern schools will go down, opportunities will be less, the subjects which can be studied will be fewer and inevitably the pupil-teacher ratio will get worse as a result of the cuts that have been ordered.

I do not believe that, as the Minister said in her opening speech, the choice will always be between good schools of various types. I should like to hear what she thinks about falling rolls and what will happen when the grammar and secondary modern schools are there together. Children in those schools may well get a raw deal. There will inevitably be a lowering of the academic quality of the intake. I do not trust the grammar schools not to poach. I have heard a grammar school head saying that he would be very happy to take greater numbers from the secondary modern schools in the town at the end of their second year and he hoped for 25 per cent. of assisted places if that scheme came in. He had no thought for the other two schools, with hardly a bright child left to stimulate the rest, or for the morale of the staff at those schools which have a large proportion of their brighter children snatched away after two years. What has the Minister to say on falling rolls? We are told that a Bill is to be brought forward next year but that will not be through in time particularly if, as is rumoured, there is to be a recess on into November. To me this is a very urgent matter. LEAs need now the authority to declare a planned operating capacity for their schools and even more will they need it if this Bill is passed.

No doubt many noble Lords will have read, or at least heard of, a recent much discussed piece of research Fifteen Thousand Hours by Professor Michael Rutter. Professor Rutter and his team sought to discover the reasons why 12 schools in inner London with very similar catchment areas showed such different results or "outcomes", as he called them. Three years were spent on this research. The schools differed markedly in behaviour and attainments, in the regularity of attendance, the proportion staying on until after 16, the success in examinations, the delinquency rates. The results were not as would have been expected from the histories and records of the children when admitted to the schools and the differences were not due to physical factors, such as the size of school, age of buildings, split sites, the space available. The outcomes were influenced by factors outside the teachers' immediate control, although that was very important. The academic balance in intakes to the schools was particularly important and more important than the social mix. Examination successes tended to be better in schools with a substantial nucleus of children of at least average ability, and delinquency rates were higher in those with a heavy preponderance of the least able. This effect of balance in the intake was most marked with respect to delinquency. The importance of the academic mix is what I want to emphasise. By keeping grammar schools, we are depriving the other schools of just those children who provide a stimulus to the rest and the party that calls itself the party of law and order should note the findings on delinquency.

I was interested to see in last Saturday's edition of Education that Mr. Carlisle had agreed to the DES spending £100,000 on a five year follow-up study to the Rutter Report, so presumably he accepts and respects the findings to date. Would that they affected his policy! Instead of abstracting some of the most gifted children we should surely be spending time and money on seeing how best to help all the gifted children within the comprehensive schools and making sure that we are doing the best for them and stretching them. This in turn will stimulate all children in the schools.

Today in the Guardian there is an article on another piece of research by Joan Freeman on gifted children. I shall quote briefly from that: The evidence provided by this research does not support the stereotype of the unhappy gifted child who has to be kept apart from other children and given special education for his or her own good. Very highly gifted children from normal homes were seen to be happy and doing well at their local schools". I shall now say a word on finance. I know that the Speaker's ruling in another place was that there were no financial implications to this Bill and of course I accept that so far as this Bill is concerned, but one knows only too well the cost in the time of officers, members and officials in preparing schemes of reorganisation. Furthermore in a great many cases staff must have been appointed for September 1979 by the end of May, or even earlier in the case of heads. Presumably they will have to be paid the salaries for those jobs even if plans are revoked. I have heard that some teachers in Tameside have been paid for as long as three years for jobs that they are not doing and I grudge these wasted resources in start times. The Bill is wasteful in other ways. Why should authorities who have made proposals and published notices and who want to go ahead have to go to the trouble of electing so to do and writing to the Secretary of State?

I should like to ask two questions on Clause 1(3). Are authorities to be allowed to revoke, however far plans have gone ahead and when appointments have been made, and are authorities to be allowed to unscramble plans which have already been put into operation? I gathered from what the Minister said in her opening speech that there will be no going back, but I should like to hear that confirmed, as already we are hearing of action by the Conservative members of the Education Committee of the London Borough of Bexley, suggesting that they may, against the wishes, apparently, of the head, the teachers, parents and governors, try to dismantle the one all-ability school at Erith and go back to separate grammar and secondary modern schools. I also want to ask whether the words "managers and governors concerned" in that Clause refer only to the managers and governors of voluntary schools. The notes on clauses says "voluntary schools" but it does not seem to me to be clear in the Bill.

What is so deplorable about this Bill is the uncertainty that it will cause. Those LEAs who are hesitating or moving towards revocation may well have different councils and councillors next May who may wish to reorganise, and there will be a reversal. It is significant that the two Bolton constituencies where there have been strong grammar school lobbies returned two Labour Members at the last election. How appalling it is that children's education and teachers' jobs can be messed about in this way. We want stability.

We have been moving, and are bound to move, towards a fully comprehensive system. The other served in the past, to provide as it was designed to do, the professional classes, the civil servants and the colonial adminstrators, but what the nation is now short of is a different category of citizen. What we are all saying, over and over again, is that we want more skilled men and women, more engineers, more and better managers, more technicians, yet those who moan loudest at our lack of them do not seem to make the connection that the shortage is due to a fault in our educational system. This Bill shows in those who are bringing it forward a blind ingorance of both the needs of society today and the educational needs of a country that has to live by its wits and its creative powers in industry and business, and has to live in the 20th and not the 19th century.

I am sure we all know enlightened Conservatives who have helped to pioneer the change to comprehensive education in their counties, and I simply do not understand how they can stomach this Bill. In trying to hang on to the grammar schools, which of course we all admit have done a good job in the past, the Government are looking backward and not forward. This Bill will make selection at 11 no longer illegal. By bringing it in the Government are showing a callous and wicked disregard of all those children who, by that iniquitous discredited exam, the 11-plus, are doomed to a feeling of failure and an inadequate secondary education where there will most certainly not he equality of opportunity for every child.

4.41 p.m.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, we are discussing this Bill this afternoon under some little difficulty, as the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, mentioned on the Business Motion. The Bill came to us only a few hours ago, and up to the time this debate started no Hansard was available to report the final discussions in another place yesterday. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, did her best to enlighten us, and I am sure we are all very grateful to her. Her best, is she will allow me to say so, is always pretty good; she was clear, she was charming. Was she convincing? Unfortunately, she did not convince me. I still do not quite understand what is the hurry about this Bill, why we are being pushed to deal with it so rapidly. But I hope that when she comes to sum up she will be able to reply to that point. Of course, we do not want uncertainty to last too long, but it is important to get these things right and I would have thought that we should have given more time to examine not just the Bill in itself, which is fairly simple, but its implications.

The noble Baroness indicated that this Bill was fulfilling a Manifesto pledge. I feel bound to say on that that I do not think the Government can claim they got a mandate for this Bill. If there is a difference of opinion between those who favour selective and those who favour non-selective types of education, she will find that the parties that prefer non-selective types actually polled more votes than the party that prefers selective education. So if there is a mandate it is a very thin one.

I tried to look at the Bill from outside, because I am not an educationalist at all, to find out what the object was; and I put it down as to give freedom to local education authorities to choose the pattern of secondary education in their areas. The noble Baroness made the point that it was not so much giving them freedom as restoring the freedom which they had before, and she seemed to imply that that in itself was an argument for doing it. But I suggest to your Lordships that that begs the question as to whether what we were doing before was right, and I would have thought that the experience had shown that that arrangement was not really working properly.

Of course, the idea of whether it is giving or restoring freedom to the local authorities is superficially attractive to many Liberals, as indeed it is to me superficially attractive. But I would make a few short points about that particular issue. To us, devolution of decision-making down the line has to be considered as part of an overall programme, and I find no evidence that this Bill is more than a one-off operation designed, if I have interpreted it correctly, to let off the hook certain local education authorities who believe in a selective system. There is no evidence I see that this is part of a general devolution programme.

Moreover, the type of devolution we recommend involves first the establishment of democractically elected authorities in regions, regions which will be larger than the existing counties. I emphasise "democratically elected" because I take that to mean that they are elected on some method or other so as to produce in the council chamber a balance of political feeling that reflects the balance of opinion in the region. I am going out of my way not to refer to proportional representation, but that is what I mean. I think this is very important, and to our mind it is a prerequisite of that kind of devolution. So I would regard it as altogether premature to devolve little bits of decision-making, and in some cases, as in this case, on major issues, to the existing local authorities.

Then, again, when we have reached the hoped-for position where regional authorities are established, Parliament will have to consider over what range they should have powers and responsibilities. In the field of education, I looked at the 1944 Act, which governs us today, and it imposes upon the Secretary of State the duty of controlling and directing the development of secondary education, and upon local education authorities the duty of preparing plans. I interpret this as meaning that the Secretary of State—subject, of course, as he is, to parliamentary control—decides policy, and the local education authorities carry it out in whatever way they think best having regard to their individual circumstances.

Even when we reach the stage at which we have these regional authorities established I do not feel that the overall policy on secondary education is something that should be dealt with regionally rather than nationally. I think I am here echoing something the noble Baroness, Lady David, said. On such an important matter as this we must surely have a national policy. Nobody would suggest that the local authorities should have the right, for instance, to alter the school-leaving age. But the pattern of secondary education is just as important.

So it seems to me that if the Secretary of State wishes to repeal Section 1 of the 1976 Act and wipe out the commitment to non-selective secondary education he ought to put something in its place; otherwise, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, said, local education authorities preparing their schemes will be preparing plans in a vacuum—perhaps not quite a vacuum, for the Secretary of State has certainly broadly hinted that he favours the selective system. Indeed, if I understand the Bill correctly, it provides that even if a non-selective proposal has been approved, and presumably plans are in hand to implement it, this approval can be revoked. Consider what confusion that will ensure. And who are the victims?— the children.

I think it is tragic that the argument between the merits and demerits of selective and non-selective secondary education—and there are merits and demerits on both sides; I recognise that—has become part of the two-party conflict. This means that with every change of Government there is a change of attitude, if not direction. I am not quite clear whether under the Bill change of political control in local education authorities will also produce a similar see-saw effect. We in the Liberal Party are firmly in favour of steady progress towards non-selective secondary education. So we find ourselves on this issue in alliance with noble Lords on our left and against this Bill.

But I hope we are not so prejudiced as to reject out of hand the possibility of finding some compromise which might take this issue out of party politics for 20 years or so. Then Parliament, the local education authorities, the teachers, the school governors and managers, with the active help of parents, could all get on with the very urgent tasks of improving what we already have. Let them all concentrate their attention on the children whose chances in life can be so vitally affected by the decisions they make Perhaps when after the Recess we get the larger educational Bill we are promised we shall find an opportunity to pursue this idea.

4.50 p.m.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, I entered another place in 1945. I spent 25 years there and I have now spent 9 years in your Lordships' House. In all those years this mean little Bill is the most reactionary that I have ever seen. I do not think that it was improved this afternoon by the manner in which it was introduced. We have from the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, a hurried and theoretical explanation. I found it extremely difficult to appreciate that she was talking about the education of children and their future. We never heard a word about children. We never heard anything about the effect on children or teachers. The noble Baroness gave the impression that this was just a minor technical Bill and not a Bill about different schools and comprehensive education. However, my Lords, it is.

The 1976 Act of Parliament speeded up comprehensive education, whereas this Bill is designed to slow it down. Furthermore, the Bill will mean that in many local areas throughout the country old battles will be re-opened and the whole issue will be fought once again. Mention has been made, particularly by my noble friend Lord Simon, of the fact that we should take comprehensive education out of politics. I am very sorry indeed that the organisation of secondary education has become a political matter because I have always regarded it as an educational matter.

Before I entered Parliament I was deputy head of a large secondary modern school. I was at that time also a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. I think that I can claim, without being immodest, that in those early days I brought to the notice of the Policy Committee of the National Executive of the Labour Party the injustices that were being done to children by separation at the age of 11 into two types of schools. I did not regard it as a political decision—indeed, I have never done so. My views have always been based on my experience as a teacher. We all know, especially in small towns, the divisive effect of separation into two types of schools: on the one hand, those who in the past have passed the examination for the grammar school and have been able to stay at school until 18 and perhaps go on to college or university; and on the other hand, those who fail and who go to the secondary modern schools and who ,in the past, left school at 15 and went straight into industry.

Separate schools divide the community, and in many instances they have divided families. I well remember twin girls in my school, one of whom was very bright and would have passed any examination, and the other, who was just average. As to the one who was bright, the parents decided that they would give up her chances because they did not want the two girls to be educated in separate schools. I think that today the noble Baroness who introduced the Bill never thought of those human factors—she just talked about a technical Bill. I am not saying that every-one will go to school until the age of 18 and then go to university. However, everyone should have a fair chance and should not consider themselves to be a failure at the age of 11.

In another place the Secretary of State for Education and Science, Mr. Carlisle, said that 83 per cent. of all children in the secondary stage are now in comprehensive schools. Throughout the 1960s there was a certain consensus between the parties, although they did not entirely agree. There was still an argument about the speed with which we should proceed with comprehensive education, but I thought that everyone accepted the principle that we should go towards a system of comprehensive education in this country.

During the 1960s many local education authorities prepared to change from selection at 11. Let me stress that they were not only Labour areas. I was a Minister at the Department of Education and Science from 1967 to 1970, and I was being pressed as much by Conservative education authorities and by those who called themselves independent education authorities, as by Labour authorities, to give them the wherewithal and the building facilities to get ahead with comprehensive education. In his place as a Minister I see on the Front Bench opposite the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, who was the leader of the Conservative group in the constituency which I represented in Parliament. I am sure that he will remember that when the Conservatives were in power his Conservative education chairman came to me with a deputation to see whether we could give more resources so that comprehensive education could be speeded up in Leeds. I thought that we had a consensus of opinion. However, it all changed in 1970.

Your Lordships may ask why it changed in 1970. It changed in 1970 because Mrs. Margaret Thatcher was appointed Secretary of State for Education. She had scarcely been in the Department a few hours before she decided to withdraw Circular 1065 which the late Mr. Anthony Crossland had issued. That circular did not compel local education authorities to go comprehensive: it merely encouraged them to do so. However, as soon as she arrived there she scrapped that circular. Her reasoning was very simple—namely, that she (Mrs. Thatcher) had been educated in a grammar school and she (Mrs. Thatcher) had done well. Therefore we must preserve that system.

However, I was educated at a grammar school and so were many of my noble friends. I do not think that noble Lords on the Government Benches and Government Members in another place can teach us, on these Benches, anything about grammar schools, because we were educated in them. However, many on the Government side in both Houses have rarely seen the inside of a State grammar school because they were educated at other establishments—not comprehensives, but I admit they were run on comprehensive lines.

Grammar schools have done very good work in the past; but let us remember that on average only 20 per cent. of the children in our country went to grammar schools, and 80 per cent. went to secondary modern schools. In some areas the percentage was more pronounced than that. Those of us who went to grammar schools were the lucky 20 per cent. While the present Government wish to retain those advantages for 20 per cent. of the pupils of secondary age, we want to extend those advantages to all, including the 80 per cent., and that is what the whole issue is about.

The whole aim of comprehensive schools is to make available to all the opportunities enjoyed by the few. Not every child is of equal ability, but we can give them equality of opportunity. Indeed, I think that the present comprehensive schools give a greater range of opportunity which was not available in the small grammar schools of the past. Let us not forget that, until comparatively recent times, the grammar schools catered for the average child as well as for the bright child, and it is only in recent years that fees were abolished in the old grammar schools. I remember that in the school that I attended we used to have a house-craft class which was mostly for paying pupils who could not attain the standard of those who had passed the "scholarship" as we called it at that time.

We are now told that this Bill is about choice for local authorities. We have heard the argument that comprehensive education is right for some areas but not for others. That I just cannot understand. What is it that is so distinctive about a few areas in the country, which makes it right still to continue separation at the age of 11 while other areas do not? I can see why in some areas, for practical and geographical reasons, it is better to have a middle school rather than an 11-to-18 school. I can see why in some areas it is better to have 11-to-16 schools with sixth-form colleges, and I agree that these matters are best left for local solution. However, I simply cannot understand why it is better to have an 11-plus exam and segregation at the age of 11 in some areas and not in others.

It is said that it is a matter in which parents could have a say. I want parents to have a say in the education of their children. But very often the parents are asked the wrong question. They are asked: Which kind of school would you like your child to go to—a secondary modern school, a comprehensive school or a grammar school? When the parents are asked in that way I know that many will answer, a grammar school ". However, with the 11-plus the choice is not in the hands of the parents. The question ought to be: Do you as parents want a system where one in five children go to a grammar school and the remaining four out of five go to a secondary modern school? That is the question which should be asked.

I was interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Young, again speak about comprehensive schools running in the same areas as grammar schools. That is absolute nonsense. Apart from creaming off, surely it is wasteful of teachers and equipment, particularly at sixth-form level, to have two schools in the same area with sixth-forms, and with highly-qualified teachers. That is just a nonsense and always has been.

I now turn to the point about local choice. The Government say that the only reason they introduced the Bill is because they think that local authorities should choose what they do in their own areas. However, this comes very strange from a Government which very shortly will introduce a Bill to compel local councils to sell their houses, whether or not they want to and without consideration of their waiting lists. Of course, the Government will say that that is quite different.

But I agree that the whole question of ministerial powers and local authority powers in education needs examining. There are many actions which are taken by the Government which ought to be left to the local authorities. I have pored over maps—and I can see quite a few people here who used to be at the Department of Education and Science—of areas and towns which I have never visited in order to see whether or not it is right for a particular child to go to this school or to a school a mile down the road, because parents have the right to appeal to the Minister. I believe that this is a matter which should be left at local level. If we think that the local authority is not the body to deal with it, we should have some kind of local tribunal.

However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Simon from the Liberal Benches that some things must be decided on a national basis. He has instanced what I was about to instance; namely, the school-leaving age. We do not say to local authorities: "Please yourself, whether you have a school-leaving age of 14, 15 or 16 ". That is laid down nationally. I believe that selection at the age of 11 is such an important principle that it should be decided nationally. There are also the practical difficulties involved when people move house, moving from one area to another. Within this principle there is great scope for variety to suit the local area.

We shall be discussing the details of the Bill later in the week when we come to the Committee stage but, like my noble friend Lady David, I am a little unsure about the meaning of some of the subsections. They will cause confusion in the local area. It means that some of the schemes, which have already been agreed at local level, will be passed back again. I have before me a report from the Yorkshire Post dated Saturday, 23rd June, headed "Tory chief backs all-in go-ahead ". It reads: A Conservative council chief said yesterday that North Yorkshire should press ahead with its plans for comprehensive education at York—despite the Tory Government's moves to save grammar schools. Councillor John Clout, the leader of York City Council, said that local parents were opposed to the 11-plus and that the battle for all-in schools should not go back to square one". There is a lot more, which I shall not read which is rather damning to the Conservative Government. But at the end it says: The county's assistant solicitor … said that the change of Government has made the original timetable impracticable. Almost £1 million has been deleted from North Yorkshire's education building programme …. He told a meeting of the Education Committee that the programme has been cut from £2.8 million to £1.9 million". That would mean that York could not go ahead with comprehensive education in 1981, as they had planned.

In conclusion, I believe that although this Government have been in office only a matter of a few weeks, as usual they have acted before they have thought. The noble Baroness said, in introducing the Bill, that it was mooted in the Manifesto. So it was. But I am sure that when everybody voted in May, they did not vote with this principally in mind. I admit that in some areas they did. I believe that Tameside voted with this in mind. But what happened in Tameside? In Tameside there was a very good result indeed at the parliamentary election, but the Conservatives were thrown out at the local elections. So although this Bill was included in the Manifesto, it does not seem to have done much good in the borough of Tameside. This is more than a technical Bill. It is more than just local choice. I believe that this is a declaration by the Government that they do not really believe in comprehensive education and that they want to put back the clock.

5.8 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Young is speaking twice in this debate and, according to custom, she used her first speech to introduce the Bill which, I must say, I find rather more simple than some noble Lords opposite. However, of course, behind the Bill lies the question of the present state of comprehensive education, how we should judge it and what we should do about it. Therefore, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, with whom I have had many conversations and debates on education over many years, during a large part of which we certainly had the consensus which I regret so much is not present any more. I have never listened to the noble Baroness speaking on education without having great sympathy with what she said, and I have learned a good deal. I am bound to tell her that I think there is another side to the question whether comprehensive deserves to be—and this is where politics come in—100 per cent. It was not the Conservative Party who introduced the 100 per cent. principle into the reorganisation of our schools—it was not in the 1944 Act. The Labour Party, for reasons that appeared quite good to them, wanted this. That was the time when politics entered into this subject.

Comprehensive schools have been in existence for a long time—I should have thought enough time for us to make a fair and reasonable judgment of what their contribution has been. I think one ought to compare comprehensive schools today to oysters. Oysters when they are good are very good. They are unbeatable. But when oysters are bad, they are not only bad they are positively dangerous. That really is a fair description of the comprehensive schools today. Some of them are truly excellent—and I have visited a number myself—and some, and this is what we have to recognise, are doing worse by their children than any secondary schools we have ever known.

Several noble Lords: No!

Viscount ECCLES

I am sorry, but this is true. Of course the party opposite will not agree. It was said the other day in another place that the gap in standard between the best and the worst comprehensive schools was not a little, but much wider than the gap between grammar schools and secondary moderns. I have done my best to check that. Unfortunately, it is only too true. When the noble Baroness, Lady David, talks about a child moving from one area to another, and moving from a comprehensive school and then having to go to a secondary modern, I think with her experience she must know that there are many secondary moderns which are giving a far better education to their children than a good number of comprehensives.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, will the noble Viscount give way? I certainly believe that there are some very good secondary modern schools, but I do not believe that there is nearly so much opportunity in a secondary modern as in a fully comprehensive school in the number of subjects you can do, such as languages, sciences, and crafts.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I am going to come to the range of subjects in comprehensive schools a little later in my speech. I should like to take your Lordships back to the beginning of comprehensive schools. When I went to the Ministry of Education in 1954 it was already clear that the tripartite system which was laid down in the 1944 Act was not going to be carried out. Fresh ideas about secondary education were needed. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, will remember, I welcome a substantial experiment in comprehensive schools. We hoped to get the best of both worlds, the educational and the social, by establishing comprehensives where the local people wanted them and where no grammar school had to be destroyed—schools that were large enough to contain within them a sixth form equivalent to that in a good grammar school. The whole range of ability and aptitude would be gathered under one roof, and the able children would have all the options available in a grammar school. The eleven-plus could be abolished with substantial advantages to children from all kinds of backgrounds.

I have to tell your Lordships that I was attracted to this comprehensive experiment, but from the beginning I asked my advisers this question: Do you think that the local authorities can find the head teachers and deputy heads with the exceptional capacity required to manage schools of 1,500 or more pupils? Will not the administration differ in kind as well as in degree from anything we have ever tried before? My advisers could not answer that question because no one had had enough experience of maintained schools of this size.

Nevertheless, with my blessing a number of local authorities set up comprehensive schools and some excellent head teachers were appointed. But, as your Lordships know, Kidbrookes and Dame Molly Greens do not grow on every bush. This was exactly what I had feared would happen. The nature of the experiment was such that it ought to have been explored step by step. But when the Labour Party got into power they, and the local authorities who wanted to go comprehensive, were in such a hurry that they brushed aside the problems of size.

Then fortune did not favour the comprehensive experiment, and this for two reasons. First, the number of young teachers coming out of the training colleges increased so fast that the age composition of the staffs in many schools was thrown out of balance. As a result, turnover in staff became disastrously rapid. I think I am right in saying that the rate of turn-over was very much greater in the new comprehensives than it was in either the grammar schools or the secondary moderns. Then, perhaps more serious still, during the period when the larger schools were being established—and I am thinking especially of those in inner cities—the moral fabric of our society was deteriorating. The statutory leaving age was going to be raised to 16; a number of children were resenting more and more their last year; they were more difficult to control; they got out of hand earlier; there were also racial problems, and problems of weak teaching and weak discipline.

No one on either side of this House, or of another place, anticipated the extent of these difficulties. They took us all by surprise. Unfortunately, inquiries into what was happening were resisted far too long. But the public got to know by direct experience, and the media, with their usual relish, reported the trouble spots. Then Mr. Callaghan became Prime Minister. He was impressed by the anxiety and fears of parents. He made that speech which we all remember.


My Lords, would the noble Viscount give way a moment? May I just ask the noble Viscount about the advice that was given to him by his advisers when he was Minister of State in the Department? Was it right advice?

Viscount ECCLES

I am sorry; did the noble Lord ask whether the advice was right?


Yes. Was the advice right?

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, they could not give me advice on whether we could find the number of head teachers, but it turned out that my fears were justified. You cannot otherwise explain the enormous staff difficulties in many of the big comprehensives in the cities.

To return to Mr. Callaghan—and I say all credit to him—he started the debate on standards. I never thought that much would come out of that debate because there were a great many people not particularly interested in it. But that does not matter. What does matter is that the problems are still there, and they are difficult to solve. This Bill will do good in a few areas, but we must look beyond it and ask what should now be done to help the general run of comprehensives.

We must start from the facts. We now know that, apart from the shining exceptions, the majority of comprehensives pose this dilemma; either you have a school large enough to contain within it a grammar school sixth form, in which case the size, especially in big cities, makes that school unmanageable; or you have a school small enough to be manageable, in which case the sixth form cannot offer the options which children should have in their own interest and in the interests of the nation.

My amendments to the 1976 Act, which the Government rejected without reasoned argument, were based on the recognition of that dilemma. Section 1 of that Act abolished selection on grounds of ability, except for music, dancing and handicapped children. The result was inevitable. Grammar school sixth forms, which were going to be botched up with secondary moderns, were weakened, and in some cases very severely weakened, and parents saw their children deprived of the kind of education they wanted for them.

I am not talking without the book. A recent survey of the comprehensives in London shows how serious the consequences have been. Barely half the children in the London comprehensives can study to A-level French, mathematics or any technical subject. If noble Lords want the details, they were given in another place on Second Reading and I will not trouble the House with them now. It is no good the supporters of comprehensives saying that when children reach the sixth form they can attend classes in another comprehensive where the subject in which they are interested is being taught by graduate teachers. To study these subjects to A-level and beyond, almost every clever child needs graduate teaching all the way up his or her grammar school.

My amendments to the 1976 Act would have given local authorities discretion within the comprehensive system—I emphasise that; within the comprehensive system—to select on grounds of ability for a subject like mathematics, and possibly others, and that discretion was as necessary to children as it is in the interests of the nation, which so badly needs the skills founded on a subject like mathematics.

For a very long time we have had in this country two systems of education, the maintained and the fee-paying. In the '50s we hoped to raise the standards in the maintained schools to the level where parents would find it unnecessary on educational grounds to pay fees at an independent school. Of course, if they wanted a boarding school that was another matter. We succeeded in the primary schools but we failed in the secondary schools. The bridges which we tried to build between the two systems were neither broad enough nor strong enough, and now the Labour Party has destroyed the bridge offered by the direct grant schools, and the 1976 Act continued the process of division between the systems. I ventured to tell your Lordships at the time that that Act would inevitably lead to a boom in independent schools, and that is exactly what has happened.


My Lords, the noble Viscount said we had failed to bring the non-fee paying schools up to the level of the fee-paying schools, but that is a wide generalisation. It is certainly true in some cases but it is certainly not true in others. I have two grandchildren at a fee-paying school and two grandchildren at a comprehensive school. I also have some grandchildren whose parents cannot decide which to do because they do not think the fee-paying schools in their area are any good. The noble Viscount has oversimplified the matter very much.

Viscount ECCLES

I understand what the noble Lord is saying, my Lords, and of course one of the difficulties about a debate on education is that one can pick out a good school here and a bad school there of every variety. We tried very hard to raise, let us say, the chances of getting into a university—I must produce some sort of measure for one school against another—and it has been much improved, but we have never got it far enough. If we had, we should not have Oxford and Cambridge now, as a deliberate policy, giving places to children from comprehensive schools who have one less A level than those who come from independent schools. That is a most extraordinary thing to happen. I was saying that the 1976 Act was divisive, and the part played by education in creating divisions in our society has been enlarged and sharpened—and by whom? The answer is, by the Labour Party, which so often accuses us of perpetuating class division.

I come to the excellent suggestions of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon. We must stop this political ping-pong with secondary education. When the Labour Party are in power, the 100 per cent. comprehensive principle is put on the Statute Book; I cannot think of anything more political than that. Then, when we are in power, variety in secondary schools is restored. It will not do. This instability is not fair to either children or teachers. Now we have a new Government and we have a Prime Minister who was Secretary of State for Education and Science, and, as we on this side know well, Mrs. Thatcher has a great interest in children and cares a great deal about education.

I wonder: could we start again? Could my party, because we are in power, take the initiative and invite the Labour and Liberal Parties to work out with us and with the Churches and local authorities a new Act of Parliament to overcome the very grave difficulties which now face our secondary schools, principally because the comprehensive experiment has been hurried at such a rate? That Act could also clear up some other sections in the 1944 Act which need revision. I believe that if we put the interests of the children first we could recapture the spirit of co-operation which animated my noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden and the late Lord Chuter-Ede.

I took part in that Act; I took part in every Committee stage in another place. My Lords, you would not recognise education today compared with what it was then, with everybody putting the interests of the children first. I do not believe there is any other way but a new Act based on a consensus by which we can restore stability and hope of constructive progress on behalf of the children, their parents and the teachers.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, I am enjoying this debate. I wish at the outset to comment on some of the previous speeches. I enjoyed the speech of my noble friend Lady David and agreed with everything she said. I also enjoyed the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. I disagreed with him on only one point, and that was when he said we could not be political on education. If education is going to be, has to be, a national matter, it cannot help but be political in a democratic society.

There is little left for me to say after the speech of my noble friend Lady Bacon. As for the remarks of the Viscount, Lord Eccles, I can only tell him that there are good schools of every kind. When my husband was alive we went round every kind of school and we found good and bad schools at every tier—public, secondary modern, comprehensiive, and so on. The whole of our education has to be upgraded, and our schools have to have more help and more finance.

My immediate reaction to this Bill is like that of my noble friend Lady David; namely, that it is unnecessary and harmful from beginning to end. Education is the last area to which we should cause unnecessary upheaval and difficulties with every change of Government. This can only damage the State sector of education at a time when it could be improved in many and various ways, and so give our children a better chance in life. The Conservatives always talk about choice; I wonder whether noble Lords have noticed that it is always said to be a matter of choice. Yet very often it is choice without chance for most of our children. All that this Education Bill does is help the private and direct grant schools, taking out for them insurance policies (so to speak) and even going so far as to propose the seduction of the clever children from comprehensive schools, stealing them for the private and direct grant systems. This is an absolute scandal.

This kind of action will sow the seeds of resentment among other less privileged parents and pupils in Britain. These measures will result in a generation full of bitterness and envy. After all, my Lords, the latest figures which I have read in Where, the education magazine for parents, show that by January 1978 comprehensive secondary schools in England and Wales were attended by 83 per cent. of our children. Today my noble friend Lady David said that 85 per cent. of our children were now in comprehensive education.

Why are the Tory Government now proposing to set it all back—back to the time of selection? How can anyone deny that this turning back of the clock and the disruption that will follow, for no good reason, is unnecessary? Other changes could be made. There are many changes and improvements that we could make in all our different types of schools. We could have better teacher training; that would go a long way towards improving our schools. There is also the scandal of the shortage of books. Here we are, an advanced Western country, with a shortage of books in our schools. It is unbelievable; it is a scandal. What about the wholesale sacking of teachers? The mind boggles over the number of teachers who are to lose their jobs because of this Bill. We could get rid of oversized classes, and get an advantage from the falling birthrate by having smaller classes.

The naked Tory philosophy of excellence for the few, with protection of élitism, can only breed class divisions. Perhaps this is the most dangerous situation in this scientific, technological age when it is necessary to educate as many of our children as we can. To babble about choice when, as I have said, there is no chance for under-privileged children is just hypocrisy. Educational standards cannot be raised by expenditure cuts. This is really an Alice in Wonderland situation. It is lunacy to say—and it has been said; I have read it—that educational standards can be raised by making expenditure cuts.

The General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, Mr. David Hart, said that his association regarded the local government expenditure cuts as, the most damaging attack on educational standards by any Government since the Second World War". Mr. Hart has not only spoken; he has sent letters to the parents telling them just what the expenditure cuts will mean. Three cheers for Mr. David Hart! He has really done a marvellous job. This move of his is really an inspiration, because many parents do not know exactly the difference between all the schools. As I have said, thousands of teachers are to lose their jobs. How profligate can a Tory Government be?

When Mrs. Thatcher became the first woman Prime Minister in the West I could not help feeling pleased. But since then every move from her and her Cabinet has filled me with the gloomiest forebodings. I say this not only because she is so Right-wing, but also because her guru is Sir Keith Joseph—a fact which compounds my worst fears. Many Conservatives regard equality as a dirty word, and Sir Keith Joseph, during the election campaign, blamed what he called the egalitarianism of the Labour Government for all our troubles, all our economic difficulties and ills. Yet he must have noticed that the struggle for equality is going on all over the world, not only in Britain. So finally may I respectfully point out that equality is an eight letter word, not a four letter word as Sir Keith Joseph regards it.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, when I came to your Lordships' House this morning in order to look at the Bill I intended to make a speech of very considerable length—and I might do so yet. My concern was that I believe that we have reached a point of time in relation to the education service when there are vital problems which must be faced and resolved. I do not believe that the Bill makes any contribution to their solution. Indeed, I think that it may well aggravate the difficulties. My real theme is, a plague on both your Houses. Unless, my Lords, you cease to make education the plaything of party politicians, there is no hope for the education service.

I go back 34 years, when I first became secretary to the Association of Education Committees, at the beginning of the operation of the 1944 Act. I believe profoundly in the principle to which the Bill gives expression; namely, the rightness of a local education authority determining how to organise its schools, believing—as I did then, and as I know now—in the principle of distribution of power in the education service. For the better part of 20 years that worked very successfully. As the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, reminded us, there was a substantial period of time when there was no party political argument, when there was a consensus opinion, and when the local authorities had continuity and stability in the organisation of their schools. It is true that they varied in their approach.

I believe that period was the most successful in the development of the education service in the whole of the history of England: roughly, 1945 to the middle 1960s—1964–65. Indeed, our problems have arisen from our own success. The secondary modern schools which were established were so successful that they built up a substantial pressure for more places in grammar schools in order to do justice to the thousands of children in secondary modern schools who were successfully passing school certificate and subsequently O-level examinations. So the selection which had operated at the level of, roughtly, 15 per cent., one in six, moved to one in five, to 20 per cent., to one in four, to 25 per cent., and in some areas to one in three, to over 30 per cent. Nobody could defend selection at that level. This was the genuine division of the sheep and the goats.

Therefore, the pressure in support of comprehensive education greatly increased. That pressure started the conflict between the two major political parties. I remember it well—a colleague of mine moving, at a Conservative Conference in Scarborough, a resolution in support of the tripartite system; and then a resolution at the Labour Party Conference, within a matter of weeks, in support of the comprehensive system. The tragedy of this situation was that, from that point of time, for the next 10 years there was no continuity and no stability in our secondary schools system. Every change of party political control at local authority level meant a reorganisation. I recall one of my most distinguished colleagues retiring at the earliest possible date, having prepared five reorganisation schemes in nine years, none of which was really carried into effect.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, would my noble and very good friend allow me to interrupt him? I have been following him very well, and agreeing with most of what he said, but it is not true, except of a very few local authorities, that the situation changed when there was either a new Labour or Conservative local authority. As I said in my speech, in the period about which he is speaking there were many Conservative and Independent local authorities anxious to press ahead with comprehensive schools.


My Lords, I do not dissent from that, but it is equally true that there were areas where every change of party political control, which very often happened every two years, meant a new scheme for the reorganisation of their secondary schools. Have a look at the record of Birmingham, and you will find the answer.

The effect was a simple one, my Lords. Education had become the plaything of party politicians. This was the reality. Consensus had ceased. I accept that in the 1976 Bill the Labour Party were making a genuine attempt to create national unity, in the sense of saying that there is a national pattern. But in fact we had failed to analyse the essential problems of the comprehensive school—problems to which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred earlier. As I see them, there are really three. First of all, I think, long since, consensus opinion rejects the very large school, for the reasons which the noble Viscount gave. That being so, we must accept that it is neither educationally viable nor economically viable to maintain sixth-forms in comprehensive schools of reasonable size. I think that is now almost a matter of agreement. It raises the problem of the education and training of the 16 to 19 year-old groups, to which I hope to return in a few moments.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to give way for one moment? Is he generalising when he makes that statement, or is he localising it?


My Lords, I am not quite sure I understand the noble Lord, but, then, he knows that I never have really understood him, even when he was my president. I am stating a simple fact: that the average size of a sixth form in a comprehensive school of reasonable size—and I go up as far as 1,000—is neither educationally viable nor economically viable. It requires a staffing ratio of probably about one to four or five if you are going to cover the necessary range of subjects, and that is a very expensive process. That being so, we must look at that as a problem.

But there are other problems, Again, interestingly enough, there is complete party political agreement on the fact that those who have limited ability require special arrangements for their education. There is no problem; there is complete party political agreement that those who are handicapped require special educational provision. There is even party political agreement that those who have special talents, if they happen to be in music and movement, require special educational treatment. But there is not agreement that, just as the bottom 2 or 3 per cent. in the range of ability need special educational provison, so do the top 2 or 3 per cent. in the range of ability. This is where the problem has lain. This is the cause of this Bill.

I gather we are going to have another Bill, probably in the autumn, offering national scholarships to try to meet this problem of the top 2 or 3 per cent. of ability. I think it is only fair to tell the Government in advance that I shall be even more opposed to that Bill than I am to this one. I am appalled at the idea of admitting publicly that the national system of education is incapable of educating our most able children. Nor would I expect the independent schools to find it acceptable, for the obvious reason that a change of Government could mean that the whole scheme would be scrapped and they could be left carrying the burden—a burden that they could not reasonably carry. But there is a further reason. I gather from the Secretary of State's recent statement that he hopes to have 90 independent schools that would co-operate. My Lords, if he can find 90 independent schools that are capable of fully stretching the top 2 per cent. of ability, he is a better man than I am. There may be nine but there certainly are not 90.

Therefore, surely we come back to a relatively simple proposition. On all sides of the House we have had expressions of the desire to find consensus opinion. The noble Viscount has said what I tried to write 10 years ago in a little book entitled Towards the New Education Act: that we had reached the point of time when we needed a new Act on which we could find agreement at national level, leaving local authorities to operate within a framework which was agreed. May I venture to suggest the fundamental provisions of such an Act? I do not think there is a problem in the primary stage. I think we must re-define secondary education as from 11 to 16. I think we must prescribe that, in general, it will be based on comprehensive organisation, but that it will be a duty of a local education authority to make special provision for the handicapped children and for the bottom 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. in the range ability. Equally, it will be a duty of a local education authority to provide for those who have special talents and for the top 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. in the range of ability.

I would then expect the Act to provide a new stage in the educational system—what I call the tertiary stage—from 16 to 19. For, let us face it, this is the biggest educational problem of the day. It is not a matter of sixth form education as we have known it in the past. We need a new conception of the education and training from 16 to 19; certainly, for some, full-time academic preparation for entry to university but, for others, full-time education in technical and commercial subjects leading to industry and commerce and, for others, sandwich courses leading to qualifications of a technical nature or craft courses to lead to qualifications of the City and Guilds.

The children that we are dealing with are going to spend most of their lives in the next century, not in this one. They have to be prepared to hold jobs in a highly technological society. This seems to me to require a new stage defined as the tertiary stage, with regulations peculiar to that age group, the 16 to 19-year-olds; and, frankly, in my judgment, provided in tertiary colleges which maintain the principle of the comprehensive school but which offer a full range of courses—and which would he not merely educationally advantageous but would be very much more economic. I have been to visit some of those which have already been established and, coming back to the noble Viscount's point, I believe that you can then compete at 18-plus for entry to university with the independent sector—

Viscount ECCLES

Which you cannot now.


My Lords, I would agree. This seems to me to be not an unreasonable proposition. What am I asking? I am asking the present Government to accept the general principle of comprehensive education. I am asking the Opposition to accept the logic, the reasonableness, of providing specially for the top 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. of ability, just as they provide for the bottom 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. of ability. This is not an unreasonable thing to suggest. Let us not under-rate it! The special needs of the top 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. are no less difficult than those of the bottom 2 per cent. or 3 per cent., and are no less important to the welfare of the nation. Nor is this a new idea. Russia does it; China does it; almost every country that has had long enough experience of the comprehensive system has come to this conclusion.

My Lords, I am most grateful to you for bearing with me for so long. I would plead with the Government—not about this Bill; let it go through! It does not matter—to go away now and to do as the noble Viscount has suggested: get together at national level with the main political parties and find a compromise that all can accept in the interests of the children of this country and, in the long term, in the interests of the future of this nation.


My Lords, I before the noble Lord sits down may I ask whether he would clarify a point? I agree with everything that he has said, but I do not understand why he refers to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, as being on his side. I am not against the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles; but I do not understand what he is saying about that.


My Lords, there were two points with which I found myself in full agreement with him. One was that there had been a period when he and I had occasion to work together when there was consensus opinion at national level, and this led to a very real success in the development of schools. There is another point that he made with which I would agree. He said that we had reached a stage where we desparately needed a new Education Act which could embody consensus of opinion.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, it has been fascinating to listen to speeches by speakers of eminence in the educational world—the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. It has been fascinating to find that the final summary of the noble Viscount's speech was the constructive sentence: we should try to take party politics out of the question of education. Those of us who have devoted our lives in extra-mural work and in working in all types of education believe that our children should not be Aunt Sallies for political parties when they happen to be in power for a brief period of five years. Nevertheless, I pay tribute to my own party in so far as in its period of power it tried to do all the constructive things that have just been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander. I also want to pay tribute to the Butler Act. That was one of the monuments to the Conservative Party in the period of the war. We were offering our children all kinds of possibilities. I came into this Government in 1945 and we tried to implement the 1943 Act—

Baroness BACON

It was a Coalition.


My Lords, as my noble friend has said the Butler Act was from the Coalition.

But I wish to take up the distortion of statistics which the noble Viscount fell for, although I do not want to delay the House. Professor Michael Rutter was quoted by my noble friend on the Front Bench and the research team for the Institute of Psychiatry monitored the development of 1,400 children in a six-mile tenement block development for 15,000 hours of work. They found that there was no doubt that it exploded the myth that schools do not matter and also the myth that comprehensive education was the Aunt Sally of the educational world. Further on, the Ministers of Education give in Answers the information that when looking at the Welwyn and Hatfield comprehensive system in the 1968 to 1975 period, it showed that the number of O-level passes increased under the comprehensive system by 95 per cent. against the increase of about 24 per cent. in similar age groups in other places. I could go by that; but if we start quoting things in support of our arguments on each side of the House, we know that this could become just a cheap political debate.

The fact is that there are balances and imbalances throughout the entire educational system. Those of us who deal with children—and this is much the most important thing about this Bill—must ask what this does to our children and to the child who is going to work with the silicon chip in the next century. What does this Bill do? Does it increase unemployment among the teaching profession when 50,000 are now looking for jobs? Why ruminate about the lack of fully-qualified people to teach mathematics when there has not been the encouragement and the opportunity for mathematicians to get the education that some of them desire? I have had plenty of experience of that. I lived with a mathematician for a long time.

I want to take another point. The sixth form college found the answer to the comprehensive school. Nobody was expecting to find in the comprehensive system a sixth form at each school. But, as in Stoke-on-Trent, for instance, we established the sixth form college for the 16 to 18-year-olds; and that system has proved to be most popular. In 1965, the concept of the sixth form college was a new and untried concept. Circular 10/65 stated that only a limited number of I experiments would be sanctioned. Now, however, sixth form colleges are a well-known and established feature of the comprehensive system. Let me leave it at that, my Lords.

Is it the intention of this Conservative Government to destroy the sixth form colleges with a comprehensive system? Are they going to destroy the scores of sixth form colleges that now have masters and mistresses with the ability to teach the advanced subjects that lead on to higher levels of university education? If this is so, it is a Samsonian policy of manufacture: tearing down the temples altogether. Looking at this Bill, it is no good pretending that we are giving too much power to some people in local authorities and governors of schools. I come from a rural area and have lived in city areas. In some of the rural areas of Britain the governors are not appointed on any basis of true consensus at all; they are appointed by the party that is in power and often they show their prejudices in education. They cannot control their own kids but tell teachers with classes of 40 and 50 children how they should control them.

One of the disgraces of British education is the size of the modern class. We have been talking about it since the 1914 war. I think these matters ought to be looked at. Let us look at some of these myths, the myth of the golden age of our Empire, power and great education. If anybody wants to read a famous book about this he should read Metropolitan Man and find out that in the 1910s one in three people in London were laid out on a workhouse slab. That was the poverty of Great Imperial Britain. What about education? In the Boer War only one in three people could read, One in three of the troops was illiterate. In 1925 the British Army was so concerned with illiteracy that it produced a book to teach troops to read. The Ministry of Education published this official document. The educational system was rotten to the core. It was a system that believed the children and the ordinary people were there to obey their betters.

The 1939 War Office—and some of us had to help here—were confronted with illiteracy again. Almost one in five people were unable to write a simple letter. Their reading age was below 10. That was the British educational system when Germany was leaping ahead. Today, under this Bill, it seems we are harking back to that condition in society again. The spin-off of comprehensive education is something bigger than just literacy or numeracy. It has to do with art, science, languages and music, not the narrow thing: "Can you count to look after my engines?" "Can you read my instruction on a tachograph?"

The comprehensive educational system tried to build something spiritual and moral in our children. To do that they need the necessary buildings and smaller classes, which those who were lucky enough to get to Eton or Harrow had. I like the people who have had that kind of education telling us how we can run our ordinary classrooms in the old-fashioned councils. That system of education should—it is not quite possible—be available to almost all.

Our schooling system really is the scaffolding upon which we have to develop, construct and involve the abilities of our children for the benefit of society as a whole. A suggestion has come from the Opposition Benches and the Cross Benches that there ought to be a getting together to see that in the next 20 years or so we do not muck about with the educational system but spike down something that would be constructive for all. The foundation of a social, moral and intellectual step forward, we believe, was something in the Education Act 1976, which gave power to require local authorities and voluntary school governors of England and Wales, who had not already done so, to abolish selection at 11-plus.

Are the Conservatives in Britain asking for the 11-plus examination to come back again?—this terrible, soul destroying thing for our children. We have not heard about this. That is the wickedest way of all of dividing children who have different rates of development—trying to separate the sheep from the goats by some kind of examination. The statutory basis of our system was the 1944 Act. Before that, as I said, the only elementary education ended at the age of 14, except for the under-privileged.

When I was a lad in a Welsh school near mining and agriculture I could have passed a marvellous examination at 12 years of age called the labour certificate. Do your Lordships know what would have happened to Harold Davies, as he then was? If I had passed this marvellous examination I would be a man: I could wear a belt; I could wear what we call "Yorks" and work on the coal face. I could go behind the old man shovelling up the muck, because at 12 I had proved myself so clever that I need not stay in school until I was 14—one of the wickedest pieces of selection in the history of Britain. Is there any noble Lord here who knew of that? That was one of our systems—the labour certificate—in some of our old schools. They wanted young labour, and in the mining and farming areas many a lad rued the day that he passed his 12-plus examination.

The legal basis for a system in which all children, regardless of their parents' social and financial status, would have access to schools and provide a variety of instruction as may be desirable is one of the great things that the Education Act of 1944 stood for. We really hoped that that would be our aim. It was Butler who introduced it, but it is a sad day today that it is his party that is now moving backwards in the field of education.

When the war was at its height, Britain was being scourged by Hitlerism. Every man, woman, boy and girl was appealed to, with promises of the great future after we had won the war. This week in my study I dug out a little pamphlet called Educational Reconstruction, Cmnd. Paper 6458, setting out promises to the children of Britain when we had won the war. There were going to be opportunities; schools were going to be opened. The children were going to be fed; they were going to be looked after; they would have the equipment. What happened to it? Now the school milk and school meals are being cut and there is a vicious Conservative scythe going through fields that should yield fruit so far as children are concerned. My Lords, look it up. It was that White Paper. I call it a glyptic. Do you know what a glyptic is?




I will tell you, my Lords: it is a carving on ivory or on a gem. That was a glyptic carved out of war-time euphoria and Tory promises. Those promises were in the Butler Act and it is left to this lady Prime Minister to destroy it.

It was old Cobbett in 1807 who denounced the proposed education schemes as indoctrination of the poor with the principles of submission. That is the trouble, once you teach a lad to read, you never know what he is going to read next. They started him on the Bible. That led of course to the broad-mindedness that William Cobbett wanted to see. But then we come to the Jeremiads: Education should not be left to the caprice or negligence of parents, to chance, or confined to the children of wealthy parents. It is a shame, a scandal to civilised society, that part only of the citizenry should be sent to colleges and universities to learn to cheat the rest of their liberties". That was a wicked saying, said at one time by somebody who looked on education as a privilege, just to create an imbalance between the rich and the poor. Education, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equaliser of mankind and of all conditions of men. It is the balance-wheel of our social machinery and without it you get the "yobboism" that you see around the world today—the cheap music and the rather vicious forms of art that are pushed out on the television.

The question is: is all this going to be reversed by the right honourable lady who is Prime Minister? Are her henchmen to roam through the corridors of power like predatory Teutonic fifth-century tribes, ululating malicious hostility to works of constructive education that have been there before? There were ululations from a noble Lord opposite when I happened to interrupt the Minister today. I was interrupted by the noble Lord when the noble Baroness was courteous enough to give way. They get hot under the collar because they realise—

Several noble Lords: Order, order!


Let me finish the sentence—it is a compound, complex sentence. The trouble is that they are hiding their heads in shame. Look how empty the Benches are. They are really upset about this Bill the Prime Minister has brought in. The noble Viscount wants to interrupt me—with pleasure: now I will sit down.


My Lords, I have enjoyed every minute of the noble Lord's speech, but I hope he will remember who it was who destroyed the grammar schools that have produced some of the greatest Labour and national leaders this country has ever had. I also hope he will remember that even under a Labour Government there was still a unit in the British Army where it was necessary to teach people to read and write. That was going on under a Labour Government: I am not sure whether it is still going on. So it is not all black and white. Surely grammar schools and comprehensives can go on together?


My Lords, the noble Viscount is reiterating what I said at the beginning of my speech: you have to look at both sides. I was one of those who taught those who had to teach others to read. That was during the war when for a long time they were looking for people capable of explaining the alphabet to some noble officers—well, they ask for it! I do not like being interrupted but I enjoy it sometimes. After all these reports had come in to the House, we were told in 1964 in the Queen's Speech: My Ministers will enlarge educational opportunities". I think it is time we stopped this shadow-boxing and got down to making Britain great again. I made a similar statement the other night when we were talking about children in the debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. I would say to all sides of the House: it is time we stopped shadow-boxing about education and got down to giving that education, no matter how poor we may feel. It has been the custom of Welsh parents and the custom of the Scots, although we were a poor people, to struggle to give basically good education, university education; and I want to see that spirit imbued into the people of Britain again. We can never be great if we have a dowdy educational system. For God's sake! I would say to the Conservatives: stop this shooting down of some of the good things that have been done by the party that was in power before: let us get together and build an education system of which we can be proud. Let us scrap this Bill and get together on educating our children.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, we have listened to some very remarkable speeches this afternoon, including the latest one by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. I have listened with a very proper respect to a number of your Lordships who know a great deal more about this subject than I do, because you have been professionally or politically directly involved with secondary and other ranges of education. Therefore it behoves me, certainly at this stage of the debate when all, or nearly all, that could be said has been said, to be extremely brief. Indeed I shall be brief; but I have seen from a different perspective than has been put forward this afternoon quite enough of the ill effects of early segregation in the very sensitive period of a young person's life that is covered by secondary schooling to be quite certain where I stand in regard to this Bill. I am strongly opposed to it and it seems to me that I must say so.

It is perfectly true, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, that it is within the policy of the present Government and it is left to the discretion of local authorities to make the decision whether or not to retain or, where they have gone already, to restore, selective schooling after the age of eleven, and whether or not to reintroduce the procedures—with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, I would call them the "discredited procedures "—for making selection to grammar schools or relegation to so-called modern schools at the tender age of 11, and making that selection not on the intrinsic merit or the quality of our young people but simply on the basis of an intelligence test. This is, of course, an open invitation to Conservative-controlled authorities to take yet another kick—we heard of "swiping the ping-pong ball" from the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, "shadow-boxing" from the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, and I would call it "taking another kick "—at the political football of education and put the clock back on progress.

Your Lordships may doubt, on listening to some of what has been said today, whether there has been progress. I would be the first to admit that in regard to comprehensive education it as been halting and very imperfect progress, but it has been progress in a most necessary direction—that is, in bringing all children between 11 and 16 under the same roof, in the same complex and on the same campus, sharing a whole range of activities that they can share without needing to have a lower or higher IQ, rubbing shoulders with each other, totally regardless of the social status of their parents, maybe being streamed progressively according to their abilities and having—mention has been made of this this afternoon—where appropriate the outlet of sixth form colleges, which surely provide the answer to the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, of the danger of making comprehensive schools too large.

Comprehensive schooling has made strides in blending and uniting the young generation. This Bill, in passing the buck to local authorities, will in my view accentuate the existing patchwork of greater or lesser opportunities in education, not only according to the area of the country in which children happen to be living but according to the political complexion of the local authority. That is wrong. I regard this Bill as socially retrogressive because, by relegating to a lower status those schools which will have once again, in those authorities who choose to put them there, the task of catering for lower academic attainment—and not only that, but for those children who are slower learners—it will widen the gaps in our society. It will do nothing to advance the notion of "one nation ", which incoming Prime Ministers are wont to declare as their aim when they arrive at the door of No. 10 Downing Street.

The best hope—in my view, the only hope—of uniting a community both racially and communally—and who of your Lordships who have followed the events in Northern Ireland would not agree that that is basic to the need there?—as well as socially, regardless of the status and influence of their parents, is to bring its future citizens together in a common place of learning at the secondary stage. This maxim applies especially to the question of fee-paying education, but that matter is outside the scope of this Bill So to the extent that the Bill, when and where enacted and acted upon, is adopted by local authorities, it will be a divisive influence in inducing a sense of rejection and failure among those children who are put into the secondary modern range of schools. It will do nothing to reduce, and may well do something to increase, the very serious problem of juvenile delinquency and I therefore consider it to be a socially dangerous step. My Lords, I intend to vote against the Bill.

6.21 p.m.


My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Hunt, with whose views about comprehensive schools I find find myself in complete agreement. This Education Bill reflects the determination of the Conservative Government to deprive thousands of young people of education beyond the age of 15 or 16. It is true, as has said in this House, and as has also been said by Dr. Boyson in another place, that if certain areas wish to retain their comprehensive schools they may do so. If certain areas wish to change to comprehensive education they may do so. But the main purpose of the Bill is to establish a selective system of education, in which the brightest children of secondary school age will be educated in grammar schools, while the rest will attend schools staffed and equipped for pupils who are assumed to lack academic ability, and who are not expected to remain at school beyond the age of 15 or 16.

This system of education is based on the assumption that an accurate assessment of the educational potential of young people can be made at the age of 11, and that a large proportion of pupils who fail the 11-plus examination are, and should be treated as, second-class junior citizens. Speaking both as a former WEA tutor and as the present chairman of the governors of a comprehensive school, I am convinced that this argument is fallacious and misleading. Among students I have known have been some who obtained a university honours degree in middle-age, having left school at the age of 14 or 15, and there have been many others who, had they been given the opportunities and encouragement in their school days, could have obtained professional qualifications.

As a school governor, I know that the examination achievements of young people depend no less upon the encouragement and help that they receive at home and at school, than upon their own innate ability. An examination at 11-plus, whose purpose is to cream off the brightest children from the rest, must inevitably have a depressing effect upon the 80 or 90 per cent. of the pupils who fail the test. In effect, adults are saying to these pupils: "You are second-class citizens, and as adults you will be expected to fulfil this role." Inevitably, this kind of approach to young people has an adverse effect upon their behaviour. Young people, no less than adults, require a purpose in life. If, for example, they believe that they have the ability to pass O-and A-level exams, and that it will pay them to do so, they will do the work required. If, on the other hand, they are given the impression that they will probably fail the exams, and that anyway they have little to gain from them, then they may play truant from school, or work off their discontent by anti-social behaviour or by more violent means.

May I say that, while I am wholly opposed to an educational system based on the assumption that at the age of 11 an accurate assessment can be made of the intellectual ability of young people and of their future contribution to society, I know that in every new intake of young people into a comprehensive school there may be one who is a budding Charlotte Bronte, or an Isaac Newton or a Henry Moore, and that it is in the interests of mankind that their talents should be recognised and developed. But the biographies of British geniuses do not suggest that they would have been frustrated had they been educated in a modern comprehensive school.

It is true that not all comprehensive schools can provide a full range of A-level subjects for their sixth form, and Dr. Rhodes Boyson referred recently in another place to inner London schools in which only half could provide tuition in A-level pure maths; and in only two-thirds of the schools could students take French at A-level. My experience of this field is that this problem, which I know does arise, can be partially, if not completely, solved by co-operation between two schools and I do not think it is one about which we need be greatly concerned. May I say, in conclusion, that I wholly agree with my noble friend Lady Bacon, that this is a most reactionary Bill and I find it difficult to believe that the Conservative Party can support it in this day and age.

6.26 p.m.

The Earl of SWINTON

My Lords, there was a headmaster of a grammar school who was a pillar of the establishment in the part of the world where he taught. He was a member of the church, and I think he was even a member of the local golf club. He had only one failing as a good Christian, is that he had an intense hatred for the headmaster of the local secondary modern school which was just down the road. He had nothing good at all to say about that man. It happened that one day the head of the secondary modern school died. He had a chronic ulcer brought on by the difficulties of teaching the type of pupils that he had in his school, although the head of the grammar school was heard to remark, in a rather unchristian and uncharitable way, that he thought it might have been brought on by an excess of drinking beer in the local pub, and by certain relationships which he had had not only with young female members of his staff, but even—the headmaster of the grammar school said in an aside—with some of his older female pupils.

This caused the headmaster of the grammar school enormous pleasure. He thought: The rest of my life is going to be marvellous. I have got rid of my enemy."But two weeks later he died. He had a heart attack, while he was trying to explain to his governors why he had not had a single Oxbridge pass in three years at his centre of academic excellence. So he went up to Heaven and he was going up to the pearly gates when, suddenly, through the railings, who should he see but the headmaster of the secondary school. A look of horror came over his face, as he realised that for the rest of eternity he would have to share with his enemy. So he rang the bell and summoned St. Peter out. He asked St. Peter: "What is happening? What is that chap doing up here?". St. Peter replied, "Have you not heard? We have gone comprehensive up here!"

I have had two experiences of going comprehensive and all that it means, with the public meetings, the meetings with staff, with governors of the school and the discussions. The first was in the halcyon days of the old North Riding. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, nodding. It was one of those wonderful independent councils which could be spelled with both a big and a small "c". We went comprehensive some years ago, and I must refute suggestions made by the Party opposite that politics are brought in by the Conservative Party, because certainly there was no pressure on us either to go or not to go comprehensive. So we went, and I found it a most rewarding and pleasant experience going around to these meetings. Obviously, there were some objectors. Some people did not like the idea in principle. Some did not like the details. But, on the whole, they were willing to listen. They were reasonable and we achieved our object.

I was involved again after local government reorganisation in the new county of North Yorkshire, under the present legislation, and I was concerned with those parts of the county which were not reorganised on comprehensive lines. That was not a pleasant or a rewarding experience, especially in areas such as Ripon and Skipton where there was, and is, a huge majority in favour of retaining the existing system of secondary education. During this latter performance, I was never convinced that the comprehensive pattern of education was not the right one for all of those areas, and I still feel that the comprehensive education system should be adopted in this country. Equally, I was absolutely sure that to impose a system like this by force was utterly wrong. It is quite fair to go forward. One can reason, argue, coax and persuade. We should, by all means, try to persuade people to see the logic of the comprehensive idea, but we should not bully and force them into it when there is strong and overwhelming local feeling against it. Surely the local education authority, with their sound knowledge of local conditions, must be allowed to do what they think is best in their area and use their judgment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, made much of the fact that a leading Conservative councillor in York had said that he thought that York should go comprehensive. That is an absolutely excellent statement. Everybody has been saying this afternoon that we ought to keep education out of politics. It is excellent that a Conservative councillor has got up and said that he thinks that we in York ought to go comprehensive. In time, the schools which will not be reorganised may come to appreciate what they are missing. When they come round to what I believe to be this sensible point of view, then, with support from their local education authorities, they may amicably opt for comprehensive status. If, however, they are forced, against local public opinion, to go comprehensive, there will be continuing and an appalling atmosphere. I do not think it is very difficult to imagine that:, under the existing legislation, a school could be made to go comprehensive but that the head teacher, or the governors, or even the local education authority would make sure that it did not work. Surely it is much better to let them go comprehensive by themselves. That is why, despite the fact that I am very much in favour of the comprehensive principle, I support this Bill. I do not believe in force, and certainly I do not believe in the use of force in this context.

I have enjoyed very much several of the speeches which have been made this afternoon, although quite honestly, I found that one or two were irrelevant. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, referred to private and direct grant schools. I have read the Bill, but I cannot find any mention in it of private and direct grant schools. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, has left the Chamber because I wished to tell him that I enjoyed listening to his speech. I always appreciate what he has to say. By all means let us have a new Education Act. That is a splendid idea, but it does not have a great deal of bearing on the subject which we have been discussing this afternoon. I enjoyed also listening to the speech which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. He is a splendid teacher. He has taught my daughter once or twice in your Lordships' guest room, and she has always enjoyed being taught by him.

This is a very simple Bill. It restores an option, a choice to local education authorities. I think that is where it should be put. Although I support comprehensive education, again I say that I also support wholeheartedly this Bill.

6.32 p.m.


My Lords, two former Conservative Prime Ministers have used the theme of "one nation". I take the view that this Bill is completely contrary to that Tory so-called philosophy. I believe that it is quite dogmatic and quite doctrinaire. In fact, the Bill is more dogmatic and more doctrinaire than anything which the Tory Party can frighten the British public with as to what the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party might be saying. However, we should not be too harsh on the Conservative Party because, at bottom, they do not understand education. In fact, the right honourable Mark Carlisle ought to be renamed "Secretary of State for Non-Education". Apart from what they are trying to do in this Bill, the number of cuts which are being made in educational services is, again, quite doctrinaire and quite dogmatic, but they are in line with Tory philosophy.

I say that the Tory Government do not understand education because we have the most Right-Wing public school Cabinet that we have ever had this century. I did not say that. Peregrine Worsthorne said that, and he is absolutely right. In this House we have three members of that Cabinet, all of them Old Etonians. And the majority of the Cabinet consists of public schoolboys who are mainly Old Etonians. How can we expect them to understand the problems of parents in ordinary areas—whether they are working-class areas in the worst parts of our inner cities or whether they are the people of Gravesend—when we are speaking about education and selection? But this is in line with Tory thinking in most policy areas.

I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is no longer in the Chamber because I wanted to say something about his point concerning what happened in our schools and in our society during the 1950s and the 1960s. I should have liked to remind the noble Viscount—and I hope that he will read Hansard—that this was the period when we had "never had it so good". This was the period, from 1951 to 1964, which saw the introduction of commercial television and the philosophy of not just standing on one's own two feet but treading on other people's. It is no good Conservative politicians harking back and saying that this is all part of the problem because, if they want to examine it, history will show, so far as that is concerned, that this was one of the worst periods in British history.

The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, spoke earlier about what will happen to industry and regional aid, but he did not tell us how many people will be unemployed. At a time when we in this country are facing the possibility of even more severe unemployment, we ought to be looking at the question of widening the educational horizons of our young people. We ought to be spending more money on education. One of the problems is that many of the children who are educated in our schools are pushed out into the world without jobs, and they are not capable of handling the problem. This means that they create further problems for society. We ought to be spending more, not less, on education.

I suppose that I ought to declare an interest. I have two children, both of whom are at comprehensive schools, by my choice. They are in the area known as Thames-side—not Tameside which has caused certain difficulties and which I hope will cause further difficulties for this Government who have spoken so inadequately about choice. However, in the Thames-side area, which embraces the area that I used to represent and which is my home at the present time, there has been intransigence on the part of the Kent Education Committee.

Tory spokesmen, particularly in the House of Commons, have said, "The people decided at the General Election that they wanted our policies and they have said that they want every policy", as though each policy they have picked up they have an absolute mandate for. I would suggest that in the period between 1964 and 1970 the people of Gravesend, Dartford, Rochester and Chatham gave the Labour Government a mandate for the introduction of comprehensive education in that area, but the Kent Education Committee, because of their intransigence, refused to accept that mandate. Since the mid-sixties, and during the recent period of Labour Government, the Kent Education Committee fought tooth and nail against the introduction in that area of fully comprehensive education.

Therefore, in Thames-side we have a botched up scheme. Children go to what are now known as high schools at the age of 11, and at the age of 13 they are selected, not by examination but by recommendation, either to stay on at the high school or to proceed to an upper school. The situation, therefore, is that in very many cases, children are wasted for two years, or their education is interrupted because there is possibly another process to be gone through of changing schools.

I never understand what the Conservative Party mean by "choice". What choice is given to the 75 per cent. of children who do not go on to the upper schools? When we speak about choice and the 11-plus examination, what choice do 75 per cent. of our children have who do not go to grammar schools, which take only 25 per cent. of the school population. They have the choice of the limited education, and yet we are continually being told that this is the people's choice. It is not at all.

However, to come back to the Thames-side system, where selection has been replaced and a quarter go on to the upper schools, the problems have become acute, and naturally the National Union of Teachers in my area are concerned about what is happening and feel that children in that area are being severely disadvantaged. In 1967 the scheme was introduced under pressure—and if we want to talk about choice, my noble friend Lady David mentioned Circular 10/65 which the late Anthony Crosland introduced in 1965. That gave choice because within what they were asking local authorities to do to change education there were something like six possible choices of a comprehensive system that could be adopted by the area. That was giving local authorities the opportunity to look at the education system.

I believe that in Gravesend particularly we have serious problems. But the three comprehensive schools in Gravesend, where we have the two-tier system with the 11 to 13, making virtually a three-tier system, the comprehensives are oversubscribed. People are queueing up to try to get into that part of the educational system in that area which has gone comprehensive. I believe that there will be serious difficulties educationally in the area if we do not phase out the present inadequate system.

It will be a period for this Government and for the people of this country where we are, with the Government's attitude towards education, towards social services and towards employment, in a worsening situation. But I think the worst of it all is what is happening in education, because that is where our future lies. We are talking continually about the new processes, the computerisation of our society, the micro-electronic systems with silicon chips; yet in fact with a Bill of this nature we are prepared to say that we are going backwards.

I am not convinced, as much as the Conservative Front Bench in this House, and no doubt in the other House, are saying, "Well of course, nobody wants to go back to selection at the age of 11. Nobody wants to go back to the 11-plus". I do not believe that. I believe that there will be some backwoodsman in Tory local authorities who will be anxious to go back to the 11-plus, to the selective system of education in this country. Otherwise, why provide for it? Why introduce a Bill of this nature at all; or, if you are introducing a Bill, why not frame it in such a way that selection at 11 could not be reintroduced?

I believe it is possible that we may get some authorities doing this and claiming, as the Conservatives claim at the present time, that they have an electoral mandate. I believe that, with our limited resources in so many ways the need for a better educational system, and the strengthening and encouragement of those local authorities, both Conservative and Labour, who have gone comprehensive, would be better served by the Government withdrawing this Bill.

6.44 p.m.

Viscount HAMPDEN

My Lords, having listened to most of the speeches this afternoon and, when not listening, reading that excellent book Who's Who, I have discovered that all the noble Lords who have spoken before me in the debate have a far wider and longer experience in education than I have, and it is therefore with some trepidation that I enter the debate at this stage. One point encourages me to do so, which is that I have had first-hand experience over the last two years of the effect of a rigid education policy, as put forward by the last Government, on a London school. For the last 14 years I have been a governor of a south London school called Emanuel, and those of your Lordships who are not immediately lulled to sleep by the motion of a British Rail train will have seen the school just south of Clapham Junction railway station. For many years it has as a grammar school served the population of south London—Wandsworth, Putney, Battersea, Clapham—and, as one would expect, it is a grammar school with an excellent educational record, looking after poorer boys. It is also ranked as one of the top rowing schools. It has won many cups at regattas, culminating two years ago with the entire crew being selected to represent this country in the Junior World Olympics at Montreal, which I think is a fine achievement for a grammar school without the resources of a big public school.

Unfortunately, the Labour-dominated ILEA were determined that Emanuel, however successful, was not to be allowed to retain its independent status within the system. They put forward a number of plans for merging the school with other local neighbourhood schools, none of which was acceptable either to the governors, the parents or the staff. It is interesting to note that one of the leading opponents of any of the ILEA schemes was the senior master of the common room, himself an admitted socialist, who appeared and argued forcefully on television against the ILEA proposals. Some of your Lordships may have seen him. However, the governors are not anti-comprehensive school. Emanuel is part of the Westminster School Foundation, one of whose other schools is the City of Westminster School, not 400 yards from here, and the governors have agreed that that school should become comprehensive. There is no feeling against comprehensive schools, and that is why I slightly take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, who said that she opposed the idea that a comprehensive school was good in one area and bad in another. I think it is wrong to believe that there should be a universal formula for all areas.

However, when the plans of the ILEA came to no good it withdrew its support from the school and Emanuel is now an independent fee-paying school. It is flourishing and doing well, but it is not carrying out the policy for which it was founded, which was to look after poor boys. We are hoping for bursaries and, as chairman of the bursary appeals, I look into the applications for bursaries and see what sacrifices parents are making in South London in order to try to give their boys good education. We are hoping to be helped by the Government by means of the assisted places scheme, which I believe is coming on later. My Lords, all I hope is that this Bill will go through and that other schools will not be faced with the ordeal with which we were faced at Emanuel during the last two or three years.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Baroness has not had what might be called over-whelming support for her Bill. I suppose the last speaker, who declared himself to be in favour of comprehensive schools in general, came about as near as any speaker has been. We know that the noble Viscount has always been in favour of comprehensive schools and of making them better, and a severe but interesting critic of them.

The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, put forward some propositions for a new Bill and if the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will accept the one he put to her, I will accept the one he put to me. What he suggested to her was that the Conservative Party must accept the comprehensive principle; what he suggested to me was that the Labour Party must accept that the top two or three talents should have special treatment. I would accept that on the ground that we could discuss at what stage. This has not been mentioned so far, but if it were done at 16 or 17, going to a separate sixth form school, my own view is that it would be perfectly all right. I think the noble Lady will find it difficult to accept what he asked of her but both he and the noble Viscount and three or four of the speakers on my own side of the House have said that we ought to take education out of politics.

It is perfectly clear that education ought not to be in politics, as a party political football, but when I am confronted with a Bill of this kind, which is Party political and only Party political, it is asking rather a lot of the last speaker on the Opposition side not to be mildly political. What has in fact happened is that all the speakers on my side really have said the same thing in rather different ways. We are all going to say the same because we all think the same, and I am going to say it too. I think it is so important that it should be said, that there should be a record of why people in the Labour Party believe what they do believe in this particular case, that I think your Lordship must forgive me if some of the things I say have been repeated, possibly in better words, by my colleagues behind me.

My Lords, we believe that there is only one way of achieving parental choice of any significance in schools, and that is by raising the standards of the maintained schools until they are all so good that no parent can grumble at sending her child to school B because school A is already full up. This is a point which, in a sense, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, made, though he said we have not got there, and of course I know that. This being so, we have worked very gradually towards this end for 15 years, with occasional sporadic help from the Tory Party and much hindrance, and we have succeeded in providing comprehensive education for 83 per cent. of our children.

The schools are not all equally good; this, of course, we know. And we know that social conditions, which again the noble Viscount referred to, which need radical improvement, are an integral part of the problem. In fact, if I may criticise what the noble Viscount said in criticism of comprehensive schools, the criticism is of social conditions rather than of teaching ability, of social conditions rather than the provision of facilities, though some of the facilities are very bad. I have been to a comprehensive school in London which has an 80 per cent. immigrant population, which is booming and doing extremely well, having done very badly for about 7 years. This happens in all schools. You get something going wrong; you get a good man in who puts it right. There is no generality to be made from this. We are clear that the way to move towards making these schools equally good involves finally ending the argument which we have been talking about all the afternoon and using gradual and gentle persuasion, backed in the end by compulsion, to bring into the line the last 17 per cent. That was the purpose of the first section of the 1976 Act, which this Bill intends to repeal.

Why do we do this on this side? Why do we think like this? Compulsion is a most unattractive weapon. Is it really necessary to go so far? Well, we believe there is no other way, because the very existence of schools peopled through selection on grounds of ability undermines the possibility of improvement in the comprehensive or secondary school alongside. Every one of my colleagues has made this point. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander, made the point that at a certain stage when the percentage became too big this was an inevitable conflict. It is not very difficult to understand, and, in my opinion there is not a single head of a comprehensive school who does not believe it to be true. If the noble Baroness knows any, I should be glad to write to them. If there are several schools in the same neighbourhood and the top 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. of children are creamed off after an examination and sent to one, while the remaining 80 or 90 per cent. go to the others, it does not take much intelligence to understand that the academic results of the selected school will be better than the others, and that ambitious parents will urge their children to work especially hard to get in; worse, these children, so urged, who fail may be scarred for life by the disappointment and sense of failure. Yet at a later age some of them may turn out to be very much brighter than those who passed.

I do not think there are many people today who want to bring back selection at 11-plus. Certainly the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Belstead, with whom I argued for what seemed like several years over the 1976 Bill, which we turned into an Act, never suggested that this should be done. I do not think the noble Baroness would suggest this. I think it is possible that her Leader, the right honourable lady the Prime Minister, might suggest that it should be done. I think possibly the honourable gentleman the present Parliamentary Under-Secretary might think so. But their views are not echoed, I think, in ordinary Conservative thinking.

Most Tories assert that they are not in any way against comprehensive education. They agree that in good conditions it can be as good as the best grammar schools and that they certainly do not wish to re-introduce selection as a standard routine. This, I believe, is the general Conservative view. If I am wrong, the noble Baroness will correct me. In other words, implicitly, rather than explicitly, they admit that the continuance of some selective schools must have an adverse affect on the other non-selective schools in the area.

How is it that, believing, as most of them do, that comprehensive education is good and fair, they can deliberately take action to make it more difficult for it to succeed? The reason is due to almost complete confusion, based on the word "freedom". When I was young we used to laugh about the Tory use of the word "freedom"—freedom for both rich and poor to sleep on doorsteps, we used to say. This freedom is something like that. It is freedom for the 10 or 20 per cent. of parents whose children can do well in the exam to send them to the best school, while 80 per cent. have no freedom of choice at all except between schools which they know to be less good than they would be but for the grammar school round the corner.

The difficulty from our point of view in this whole argument is that some of the grammar schools were, and are, very good indeed, and it is always grievous to modify something which is in itself good. But in a very large number of cases this has been done willingly and successfully, and excellent and effective comprehensives have resulted.

The ugly truth is this. Any parent worth his salt will try to get the best for his child; that is human nature and in no way objectionable. It is a well-known fact that children from better educated homes learn faster, though they may not be more intelligent than children of less well educated parents. This means that there is a strong class interest in preserving the selective system, because in that way your child will get a better education even though everybody else's will get a worse one. It is quite legitimate that the parents should feel like this, but it is the job of Government to look after all its citizens and not to favour only the better educated. Yet that is exactly what this Bill is trying to do.

I have restated our case in rather a long-winded way, but it is important to put on record why we on this side regard this Bill with such repugnance. It is a ruthless attempt to back-pedal. I remember Evelyn Waugh once complaining that the Tory Government had not put the clock hack one minute. Well, he could not complain about this one.

The Government have not made the only excuse which could justify their action, which would be that they think the system of selection by ability to be fairer and better than the comprehensive system. They have not made this excuse—to their credit, be it said—because they know it is not true. No, they have settled for diminishing standards for 80 per cent. in favour of higher standards for 20 per cent. and this is entirely due to the fierce pressures from the middle class families concerned. It is no good saying that all the Bill does is to remove compulsion and let the thing evolve gradually.

The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and his colleague the honourable gentleman, Mr. Van Straubenzee, who spoke on Second Reading in the other place, are both convinced that the comprehensive system is right for now and right for the future. I wish their colleagues would listen to them. They do not; that is the trouble, I suppose they managed to vote for this Bill on the grounds that the system would gradually take over anywhere and there was no point in making too much fuss about it. But I think that it is much more serious than that. Although a very large number of children are being happily educated in comprehensive schools to the satisfaction of their Conservative parents and under the direction of Tory councils, yet there is a powerful and ruthless element of Tories who are totally anti-comprehensive and who want to start unpicking the careful structure which has been so painstakingly built up. The passing of the Bill will produce instability and uncertainty throughout the whole educational system.

To take such doctrinaire action, which must have a lowering effect on educational standards for the bulk of the children of this country, is bad enough. However, it is being done at a time when the Government are cutting the rate support grant by the huge figure which varies from £300 million announced by the Chancellor to £360 million announced by the right honourable gentleman Mr. Heseltine, plus another £460 million in the current year, which comes to about £800 million I do not know what the right figure is but perhaps the noble Baroness can tell us; it is certainly not less than £300 million—and when one considers that 70 per cent. of the rate support grant goes to education the cuts cannot but be terrible. The headmasters, to whom my noble friend Lady Gaitskell referred earlier, have already made their protest and instructed their members to write to parents warning them what to expect: reduction in nursery schools, in art and music teaching, in sport; less of almost everything. The final cynicism is hardly credible—in spite of these cuts, the Government are allocating £50 million to £60 million of what is left to pay for places at fee-paying schools.

I suppose that we shall have an opportunity to discuss these cuts later on when the details are announced and I shall not develop them now. But to cut public expenditure, however much one may disagree with how it is done, is one thing. To contribute to the inevitable lowering of standards which such cuts cannot but impose by a doctrinaire measure like this Bill is even worse.

I must quote my last words on the Bill three years ago after long and heated debates. I said that two-thirds or three-quarters of the teaching staff in this country teach in comprehensive schools. I went on to say that nearly all of them are dedicated to the work that they are doing, think that they are doing it in the right way and want help to go on doing it. That Bill gave them some help. Its repeal will pull the carpet from under their feet. It is a retrograde step of the most disagreeable kind. Impotent though we are in this House we shall, nevertheless, muster a strong vote of bitter protest when we come to the Committee stage and I look forward to the support of my noble friends behind me in making that as difficult as we possibly can.

7.3 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, whatever may be said about education, we have certainly had a variety of opinions expressed in the course of our debate this afternoon. A number of noble Lords have said and have asked whether we cannot take education out of politics. I am one of those who would, in fact, welcome that. I made the most moderate opening statements but, from what they have said, the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, have decided to raise a spectre about this Bill. They have certainly frightened themselves and those sitting behind them and I do not know quite what effect they have had on us. But, as it is a spectre which is really of their own making, I do not think that we need take quite as seriously as they do all the statements that they have made.

For the truth of the matter, as I indicated at the beginning of my remarks, is that the Bill does not put the clock back. It is not intended to put us back anywhere at all except to what was allowable under the 1944 Education Act. Noble Lords need not take it from me or from my colleagues, but they should take it from a noble Lord who is regarded by everybody as an education expert; namely, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. He may not have agreed with everything that I had to say, but he was the one who said that there had been a consensus in education until the late 1960s. That is true, and for most of the period when I was a member of a local education committee there was a consensus on education.

As regards the disagreement that has arisen, one of the major issues was the 1976 Act which, for the first time, forced local authorities into a certain form of education. All that this Bill will do is to put it back as it was previously.

I was deeply disappointed to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, had to say. After all, he, above all, must believe in selection of some sort or he would not, presumably, have picked such an excellent mountaineering team to go with him up Everest. But, whether or not he believes in selection, he must believe in selection at some point in people's lives. The noble Lord, Lord Peart, says that that is a silly statement. However, I understand from people who know about sporting activities that excellence is picked out very early. Often children in schools are selected at a very early stage to do well in sporting activities, and I do not regret it. I congratulate them for doing it. All I am saying is that we accept at various stages the principle of selection.

However, it is said that this is a Bill that would put the clock back and divide society. What in fact we are suggesting is that local authorities, local people, should have the right to choose the sort of education that they want for their children, which is asking that local government should work as it has in the traditional sense. I was very interested in the important point that my noble friend Lord Swinton made about the authorities in which he is working and about which he is so knowledgeable. Of course, comprehensive schemes do work well. They work very well where people really believe in them and want to have them. However, they do not work so well when they are forced on people who do not want to have them. That is what the 1976 Act did.


My Lords, I should like to make a small intervention. Is that really true? Has the noble Baroness any evidence? It is certainly what one might expect, but I have never heard of a single case of a comprehensive which has rather unwillingly accepted a scheme and then works badly because of it. There may be such cases, but I have never heard of one.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I believe that the best comprehensives in this country—and I absolutely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said about the ones to which he referred—have worked very well because everybody has completely believed in them and has wanted to make them work well. I believe them to be good schools and I would not wish them to change. However, I do not think that that is the case with all comprehensive schools, and I think that if we are trying to force reluctant authorities to undergo these comprehensive schemes—


My Lords, the noble Baroness cannot get away with this. She made a statement about a bad comprehensive system being forced on to people and then, when she is challenged by my noble friend, she does not answer the question. It really is unfair.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Gravesend, wants to take me up on a point he might at least get the facts right about what I was asked and what I replied because I do not think that he did so in the statement that he has just made. The point that I was making—and if he considers the matter I think that he will agree with me—is that if one wishes to have a successful enterprise of any sort one must have the willing co-operation of those who are to work in it. One will have a much better enterprise if those people are willing than if they are unwilling.

I believe that some of the authorities that do not wish to go comprehensive will not make the best of what they have if they are forced to do so. That is the point that I am making. If, at a later date, they wish to go comprehensive, there is nothing in the Bill to stop them doing so and they will do so willingly. And because, over a long period of time, this has been possible it has worked well and authorities have gone comprehensive as my noble friend Lord Swinton said, and as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said in his most thoughtful speech. In fact most authorities have gone comprehensive. Many have been Conservative controlled authorities and many, of course, have been Labour controlled authorities. However, they have gone comprehensive by their own choice and many of them are very successful indeed.

I would not want anyone to assume that I do not think that comprehensive schools can be successful. But there is a difference between areas. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, laughs, and says that I am just going to support comprehensive schools. But there is a great deal of difference between a country area which has no long-established grammar schools and inner cities which have had very distinguished grammar schools with excellent records, as my noble friend Lord Hampden pointed out; and which have done excellent service to the community which they have served and which, in fact, will be destroyed. We cannot say that what will take their place will equal what has gone. Therefore, the situation is different.

It is because we believe that there are differences—differences in history, in area and in the characters of schools—that we simply say that the local people should have the right to decide what it is they will do, and should not be forced. I was surprised when the noble Baroness, Lady David—who, after all, has herself had such a distinguished career in local government—should suggest that the Secretary of State for Education should take greater powers to tell local authorities what to do in education. I sometimes think that I should quite like to tell local authorities what to do.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I said that we wanted a framework of national policy, and that we needed a balance between central and local government.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I am glad to hear the noble Baroness say that because, of course, we want a balance between central and local government. Nobody is arguing that each local authority should decide at what age children should go to school or at what age they should leave school. But there is plenty of room for discussion of one of the points which the noble Baroness and other noble Lords have raised, which is the whole issue of the content of education. I hope that on our later Education Bill we shall have an opportunity to look at what I regard as one of the most important issues in education, which is the content. After all, it is what goes on in the school, not what sort of a school it is, that is the mos important question before us.

I have been asked a number of detailed questions, to which I should like to try to reply. The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked whether local authorities can revoke under Clause 1(3), irrespective of the stage of preparation that has been reached in reorganisation. The answer is that they can. The point is that the stage has been reached under duress. The noble Baroness also asked whether Clause 1(3) enables a local education authority to unscramble an existing scheme. The answer to that is, no: the Bill relates only to proposals not yet implemented. Any change as to an existing scheme requires Section 13 notices, as, of course, is laid down.


My Lords, as a new scheme?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, yes. Any intention to alter an existing educational scheme would require the local authority to go through all the Section 13 procedures. The noble Baroness also asked the meaning of "managers" and "governors" in the Bill. In this sense the meaning of managers and governors of voluntary schools is made clear by Clause 1(2). Lastly, any proposal made under Section 13 for comprehensive reorganisation, or any proposal to reintroduce selection will be considered by the Secretary of State on educational grounds and the wise use of resources, the attitudes of both parents and teachers and the expressed views of local people. Full account will be taken of objections received. These arc, of course, exactly the criteria that have been used by Ministers ever since the Education Act 1944.

Briefly, I should also like to say a few words about a core curriculum. My right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State is at present considering a summary of replies received from local education authorities in response to Circular 14/77 in order to decide the most appropriate form of consultations—I would certainly expect these to involve local authorities, teachers and the Schools Council, as well as other bodies—before we consider exactly what proposals we would make in the light of the information that we have.

On the question of transfer arrangements, these have always been matters for local education authorities in consultation with the schools in the area. Local education authorities have many years of experience, and I do not accept that they are in need of central guidance on this point. A number of noble Lords raised the point of and the difficulties arising from falling school rolls. I accept that falling rolls present great problems and difficulties for local education authorities. The key is probably the size of the school which enables educational opportunities to be preserved without an unacceptable rise in the unit cost.

Local education authorities will reach different conclusions according to their particular circumstances. This may involve joining two or more schools or closing schools in order to preserve units of an educationally viable size; or local education authorities may decide to limit the admission of pupils so as to avoid a school being full and another one next to it nearly empty, for there is nothing more destructive to good education than a school dying on its feet. The noble Baroness may be glad to know that it is for this reason that the Government plan to include in the second Education Bill legislation to enable local authorities to operate admission limits. The details are yet to be worked out.

I hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading. I do not believe that the Bill will do what noble Lords opposite have suggested. I believe that it gives us a chance to keep all those parts of the education system on which we all agree and which are good. It takes us back to a consensus situation in which it is possible to have these different types of educational systems running, one authority next to another. No authority will be made to change against its will, but if it so wishes, every authority is free to change. Having accepted that that is the principle of the Bill—no more, no less—I hope that we may look to an educational consensus in which we take note of the really important matters.

As my noble friend Lord Eccles said, it is true that people have been dissatisfied with the education system and it was for that reason that the great debate on education was opened. This is a serious matter. Education is far too serious for us not to get the very best for all our children. The real question which we should be debating is the content of education, leaving the local authorities to consider the form of organisation in which it should be carried out.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.